Ukraine War And BRI Advancing Transport Corridors – OpEd


US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Erdogan pushed for their respective transport-cum-energy corridors in their speeches at the UN General Assembly. President Biden lauded the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC) and said the project would spur opportunities for investment across two continents as well as build a more sustainable integrated West Asia.

Central Asia is geo-strategically significant for Russia so far as the region borders Afghanistan and Iran to the South, China to the East, and the Caspian Sea to the West. The Central Asian region was considered Russia’s sphere of influence as Moscow was also the region’s security provider. Moving shipping containers from China through Russia to the European Union in the past few years had become a vital part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) success story, but Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the Western sanctions have forced China to search for alternatives.

China, Iran and India have been exploring new routes for the past decade but now the Russia–Ukraine conflict has acted as a catalyst to expedite the projects through the Central Asian Republics (CAR)where the connectivity to the rest of the world was neglected due to difficult terrain. China is extending its influence to CAR and the near future may replace Russian influence and dependency ultimately through their economic power. China is now the first to enter Afghanistan and has established diplomatic relations directly with Taliban by posting their diplomat.

The ambitious multi-billion-dollar BRI launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 envisions connecting China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes rebuilding the old Silk Land trade route. If Italy pull out comes at a time when China holds the third conference of BRI in Beijing in October 2023, it will be regarded as an embarrassment for President Xi’s pet project and it might set a trend of few other nations pulling out of the BRI projects. 

New Transport Corridors

India-Middle East-Europe Economic: Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to launch the IMEECwhich includes India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the EU, France, Italy, Germany and the US. “In the coming times, it will be a major medium of economic integration between India, West Asia and Europe,” Modi said during G20 summit in Sep. 2023.

The IMEEC will consist of two separate corridors. The East corridor connecting India to West Asia and the Northern corridor connecting West Asia to Europe. It will include a rail line, which upon completion will provide cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement the existing multi-modal transport routes, enhancing transshipment of goods and services between South East Asia through India to West Asia and Europe

Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it welcomes the IMEECannounced on the sidelines of the G20 summit so long it doesn’t become a “geopolitical tool. China welcomes all initiatives that truly help developing countries build infrastructure and sincere efforts to promote connectivity and common development. “At the same time, we advocate that various connectivity initiatives should be open, inclusive, and form synergy, and should not become geopolitical tools.”  Welcome statement but difficult to be believed!

At the G20 summit, Turkish President Erdogan had rejected the corridor announcement, stating it was not feasible without their participation. At the bottom was his desire to eliminate Israel and instead get the corridor to use Turkish ports. India intends to use the Haifa port in Israel.

  • Middle Corridor of the BRI driven by China: To move containers from China through Russia to the EU had become a BRI success story, but the Ukraine invasion by Russia forced China to search for alternatives. The main alternative of the Chinese is likely to be the Middle Corridor of the BRI which is roughly 6,500-kilometer network of roads, railroads, and ports stretching across Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and into Europe also known as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR). “Both Turkey and China see an opportunity in Central Asia after Moscow’s Ukraine Invasion.”
  • International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC): India, Iran to activate new shorter corridor to Russia. India-Iran has activated a shorter route between Russia and India through which the Central Asia countries will also benefit. Iran’s state-run shipping company has successfully completed the first transit of Russian goods to India using the INSTC. Russian President Putin recently said “Moscow would pay more attention to it as it could help make the Caspian basin the hub of energy and logistics”. 

Traditionally, shipments from South Asia travelled via the Suez Canal to the ports of Rotterdam (Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), Piraeus (Greece) and Valencia (Spain). All of these places are amenable to the West’s diktat on unilateral sanctions.

  • Türkiye-Iraq project: Turkish President touched on his vision of a transport corridor from Asia to Europe “Development Road Project”. “We are striving to extend the spirit of cooperation in the field of energy, ranging from the eastern Mediterranean to the Caspian Basin, from the Black Sea to the Balkans. Also, in the field of transport, Türkiye is at a geopolitical position, which allows it to support all projects that will pass through or around it,” he said in the speech at the UNGA. Though both corridors will use the ports in the UAE, Iraq’s Development Road Initiative takes a very different land route to a port in the Mediterranean. The Türkiye-Iraq “Development Road Project” aims to build a 1,200-km highway and a $17-billion high-speed railway that will cut transport time between Eastern Asia and northern Europe by 15 days.

The IMEEC project is one of the most concrete steps the US took against the BRI. Moreover, it amounted to a declaration that Washington could still position Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which who have recently established close economic cooperation with China, on its side. IMEEC represents an alternative trade route that competes with the Development Road to Europe via Iraq and Turkey. The US administration made a move through IMEEC against China’s contribution to this route and the potential benefits of the route to China. The competition between the two routes is just the latest indication that the US and China have entered a period of global competition, strengthened their respective alliances and building competing trade routes that favour their economic interests.

Advantages will also accrue to the countries enroute. These corridors are going to attract the interest of a growing number of countries. If these corridors are to succeed in the long term with physical connectivity between Europe and Asia member countries especially will have to consider and involve a new set of partner countries. If these corridors are successful, it will be a big economic changer for the CARs, West Asian and EU countries given the advantages.

Wonder the related issues regarding double handling, infrastructure required, time factor involved in transfer of cargo to rail / merchant ships/road transport or vice a versa repeatedly of these visionary trade corridors. However, more the corridors the better it would be to facilitate trade providing alternative choice of transportation for the nations.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *